Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Dark Horse

In James Napier Robertson's The Dark Horse, down-and-out former chess champ Genesis Potini (Cliff Curtis) finds a measure of salvation for himself, his nephew, and an endearingly scrappy group of at-risk kids by teaching the young ones how to play chess. That may sound either like a film you've seen too many times already or like a formula for easy uplift. But it's neither, thanks to powerful performances and a realistic depiction of the dangers and challenges that face Genesis, a bipolar Maori man who was raised by his older brother and spent much of his life either homeless or in a mental institution.

The Dark Horse doesn't lecture its audience about the debilitating effects of poverty and racism. Instead, it makes them manifest. You see the damage done in the intimidating scowls and propensity for apparently unfeeling violence of Genesis's brother, Ariki (Wayne Hapi), and the other members of his gang, as well as in Ariki's dark little cave of a barely furnished house, with its water-stained walls and cramped backyard.

But if the dominant culture has beaten down most of the Maoris in the film, their families and self-esteem shredded and their options hopelessly narrowed, Maori tradition and values may represent a way out. Read the rest in Slant Magazine

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